Banff National Park, the oldest national park in Canada, is known for its turquoise lakes, glaciers views, wildlife, and endless hiking trails.
With hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails, it’s overwhelming to choose where to go—this guide of six breathtaking Banff hikes is suitable for all levels.
Whether you like lakes, waterfalls, or mountain peaks, you can find your favorite. To make your planning easier, we have provided details about each hike and tips for visiting Banff at the end.
Let’s dive right in.
Easy Hikes in Banff
Boom Lake is an easy lesser-known hike in Banff National Park, probably because it’s not very close to hubs like Banff town or Lake Louise. You can find the trailhead to Boom Lake along the Banff-Windermere Highway, around 38 km from Banff.
The hike starts at the Day use area with a big parking lot, outhouse, and picnic tables. Once you cross Boom Creek in the beginning, the wide and well-trodden trail goes through the forest.
It’s almost flat with a few uphill sections. The trail narrows, and you know you’re close to the lake. After a 5 km hike through the forest, you arrive at a pristine Boom Lake with Boom Mountain in the background. Some peaks you see around belong to Alberta, and some to British Columbia.
Even though Boom Lake sits at 1,930 meters above sea level and is a bit cold, we recommend jumping into the crystal clear and refreshing water for a quick swim.
And if you visit in winter, you can go snowshoe or cross-country ski and even continue on the snow-covered lake.
Related: 17 Reasons To Fall in Love With Banff National Park
Lake Minnewanka Shoreline
Lake Minnewanka is one of the most popular lakes in Banff. It lies only 10 km from town, and the trail along the lake is accessible year-round. In summer, you can take a seasonal public bus from Banff and otherwise you need to arrive in your car.
Follow the lake from the parking lot towards the dock and past the picnic area. The narrow trail leads through the forest and has very few short and steep sections, but otherwise, it’s almost flat. You can hike as far as you want along the shoreline.
After about 1 km, you reach Stewart Canyon, a very scenic and quiet spot. After that, the lake views get better and better. There are several backcountry campgrounds and different hikes if you continue on the trail.
If you don’t feel like hiking, take a boat tour across Lake Minnewanka, where the local guide explains the area’s history and points out wildlife.
Moderate Banff hikes
Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots
The two signature hikes in Banff National Park are Johnston Canyon and Sulphur Mountain. Johnston Canyon is located along Bow Valley Parkway, about 25 km west of Banff.
You walk through a deep canyon with several cascading waterfalls. It’s a favorite hike because you can cool off in the creek in summer, and in winter, you see amazing frozen waterfalls. It’s also one of the most popular Banff hikes, so make sure to arrive early in the morning.
The Lower Falls are 1.2 km away, and the trail is flat and paved. It’s suitable for all levels and even for strollers. After passing a few cascading waterfalls, you arrive at the Lower Falls.
You can see them up close going through a rock tunnel. Then continue another 1.5 km on a bit uphill trail, and you arrive at two viewpoints for Upper Falls. These are also a favorite spot for ice climbers in winter.
While most people turn around at Upper Falls, I recommend hiking about 3 km further to Ink Pots. Ink Pots are cold mineral pools. The five pools have different blue and green colors and are constantly bubbling, set in a lovely meadow with mountain peaks all around you.
Mount St. Piran
Mount Saint Piran is one of the peaks around the famous Lake Louise. There are several popular hiking trails in this area – Little Beehive, Big Beehive, Devils’ Thumb, Lake Agnes Teahouse, and Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Mount St. Piran, however, is not signed on the tourist map. Because of that, you won’t find the crowds you see elsewhere here.
The trail is well-trodden and easy to follow. You start at the shoreline of Lake Louise, following the signs for Lake Agnes Teahouse.
You get occasional views of the insanely blue Lake Louise on a wide forest trail. After you pass the Mirror Lake, you continue on the Little Beehive Trail. Shortly you see the sign on your left to Mount St. Piran.
This short part of the trail is narrow and goes through the trees. Once you reach the treeline, the majestic views of Lake Louise, Victoria Glacier behind it, and the Bow Valley open up.
A series of switchbacks leads to the top of Mount St. Piran. I’ve only met a few people while on the trail and enjoyed the summit all to myself. The calmness of the mountain makes you appreciate how high you hiked after a 7 km effort.
Difficult Banff hikes
Aylmer Lookout is located above Lake Minnewanka. You start on the same trail as described above as Lake Minnewanka Shoreline. Even though it is not a particularly difficult hike, it’s very long. In a 25 km round trip, you gain 880 meters of elevation.
The trail follows the lake’s shoreline for about 8.5 km. You can cover this distance on a mountain bike like we did to shorten the whole trip.
You continue uphill to Aylmer Lookout for about 4 km when you reach the Aylmer Pass Junction. You get a rare view of the east side of the vast 28 km long Lake Minnewanka.
If you’d like to stay in this fantastic area, you can split the hike into two days and stay at the Aylmer backcountry campground.
Because grizzly bears frequent the area, especially in the summer, Parks Canada put restrictions in place. From July 10 to September 15, you can only hike in a tight group of four or more, and no camping, bikes, or dogs are allowed.
Healy Pass hike is one of the few hikes in Alberta where the main reward for your efforts is meadows full of colorful wildflowers.
The hike starts at Sunshine Village, a popular ski resort near Banff. Then, the trail follows Healy Creek through the forest, providing a welcome shade on a hot summer day. After about 7 km, when you leave the forest behind, you arrive at a vast meadow with wildflowers and towering mountain peaks in the background. You will find that you won’t even look at the trail but the beauty around you.
When you reach Healy Pass, you see Scarab Lake and Egypt Lake beneath; it’s truly a magnificent view for a lunch break. The entire Healy Pass hike is 20 km with about 650 meters of elevation gain.
Make sure to visit in July or August when the flowers are the most beautiful.
Things you Need to Know Before Hiking in Banff
For visiting Canadian national parks, you need to purchase a park pass. You can choose a daily pass or a yearly pass, but buying the annual pass makes more sense if you visit for a week or more.
The yearly pass costs 145.25 CAD for a group or family, and you can save time before your visit and purchase it online here.
When hiking in the Canadian Rockies, you’re in bear country. Bears sightings are common, and it’s wise to know what to do when you see or meet a bear on the trail. Parks Canada provides a detailed explanation of situations when encountering a bear.
One of the essential things that Parks Canada recommends is carrying a bear spray in case of an attack. However, you need to have it within arm’s reach and know how to use it. You can buy a bear spray in an outdoor store in Banff, or some hotels offer day rentals.
Before hiking, visit the Visitor’s Centre or check out the trail conditions online. Some trails get closed early in spring due to avalanche danger or in summer due to wildlife presence.
Related: A Detailed Guide to Visiting Lake Louise in Winter
Getting To & Around Banff National Park
The easiest and quickest way to get to Banff is flying to Calgary International Airport. Then you can take a bus or rent a car and drive on the toll-free Trans-Canada Highway to Banff. It takes about 1.5 hours from the airport, and once you reach the Rockies, the mountain views are breathtaking.
Banff has set up seasonal shuttles for the most popular places, so you don’t have to worry about parking. At Lake Louise, for example, the parking lot gets full early in the morning, and if you take a shuttle bus, you also save on the parking fee.
The shuttle buses from Banff go to Johnson Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Sulphur Mountain, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake.
I hope you found this guide helpful and you make long-lasting memories hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
Maya is an adventure athlete and world traveler. After her trip around the world, she returned to the Canadian Rockies. Apart from adventure sports, she loves traveling to places beyond the beaten path which are not often visited. She shares her travel stories and comprehensive adventure travel guides on her blog Travel with the Smile.